Railway track safety standards and jobs in Nottinghamshire, South Yorkshire and Scotland, are being put in jeopardy by ‘nonsensical’ Network Rail plans to switch its track component suppliers, Unite warned today (October 22).
The long-term holder of the contracts, Progress Rail Services, has been informed that the work will be carried out elsewhere when the current contracts come to an end. While supporting Progress Rail’s bid, Unite branded the firm’s threats to fire its entire workforce if it loses the contracts ‘disgraceful’ and ‘unwarranted’.
Network Rail intends to split the new contracts, worth £500 million over eight years, between three other firms that lack Progress Rail’s comprehensive and specialist UK manufacturing capabilities and who will be forced to source a significant amount of parts from abroad.
Progress Rail, which employs more than 460 people at plants in Sandiacre, Beeston, Sheffield and South Queensferry, holds around 800 exclusive patterns for the components it supplies, and its sites have produced UK track components for generations.
Progress Rail, which is owned by Caterpillar, has accused Network Rail of prioritising cost over quality. In a letter to the union, the firm stated there is a “very real risk to the integrity and security of the UK rail network arising from Network Rail’s decision”.
The firm’s workers have also told Unite that they believe this to be the case, after having had to reject cheaply made parts from other suppliers for unrelated reasons on previous occasions.
Unite national officer Harish Patel said, “It is completely nonsensical for Network Rail to cut Progress Rail, whose specialist sites have been producing UK railway components for generations, almost completely out of its supply chain.
“Progress Rail is home to a world class manufacturing workforce, holds the exclusive patterns for around 800 components and is the only UK firm with the capability to ensure that parts do not need to be brought in from abroad,” he added.
“The company has stated to Unite that this is about Network Rail prioritising cost over quality and both Progress Rail and our members have genuine concerns that opening the door to cheaply made parts will jeopardise track safety as well as vital UK manufacturing jobs.
“Progress Rail’s disgraceful threats to fire its entire UK workforce, however, are completely unwarranted. This is a company with the corporate and financial might of Caterpillar behind it and it is not completely reliant on Network Rail contracts,” Patel continued.
“Our members are not chess pieces to be moved around on a board for the purposes of Progress Rail executives. The company has the support of Unite over Network Rail’s mistaken decision, but manipulative and uncalled for attempts to target our members will be met with the full force of the union.”
By Ryan Fletcher